In this essay, I use a Marxist lens to examine Allen Ginsberg’s controversial and groundbreaking 1956 poem, Howl. Ginsberg, I argue, was surprisingly sensitive to the politics of class in this poem, setting up a dual class system which divided those who were part of Moloch from the “angelheaded hipsters,” who I argue were analogous to Marx’s proletariat. Ginsberg imagined himself as a revolutionary leader for the class of people oppressed by Moloch, who, like Marx’s proletariat, were working together towards the goal of a political revolution. Ginsberg’s angelheaded hipsters were oppressed by Moloch, Ginsberg’s trope for the machinery of Capitalism, which I explore along two political axes: sexual conformity and psychiatry. Continue Reading…
Archives For Beatdom Content
Stuff from the pages of Beatdom.
End of the summer and we hit the road to drive two hundred and fifty miles north: 287, 684, 84, 90, 290, 495 . . . if you know the roads, you know what I’m writing about. If you don’t, it’s all pretty much the same, not much to see, and there’s been a drought so the landscape is dry.
In recent years, William S. Burroughs’ work and life has been examined from various vantage points. In my own 2013 book, I explored his relationship with the Church of Scientology and pored over his work for references to the religion. That same year, Jorge Garcia-Robles looked at Burroughs’ time in Mexico. In 2014, Matthew Levi Stevens looked at Burroughs in terms of magic and the occult, while a plethora of work appeared across the spectrum in celebration of the author’s hundredth birthday. One even focused on his work as a photographer. Then 2015 saw the release of Barry Miles’ superlative biography, which surpassed any of the earlier efforts, including Ted Morgan’s Literary Outlaw. Continue Reading…
Strange now to think of you, gone without corsets & eyes,
While I walk on the sunny pavement of Greenwich
downtown Manhattan, clear winter noon, and I’ve been up
all night, talking, talking, reading the Kaddish aloud
listening to Ray Charles blues shout blind on the phono-
the rhythm the rhythm – and your memory in my head three
years after – And read Adonais’ last triumphant stanzas
aloud – wept, realizing how we suffer – Continue Reading…
Though largely overlooked in the study of Beat literature, Harold Norse remains a potent and prophetic figure in Twentieth Century poetics. As this year marks the centennial of his birth (July 6, 1916), it’s a fitting time to look back at the Bastard Angel from Brooklyn. The focus of politics in this issue of Beatdom offers a unique opportunity to examine Norse’s examine Norse’s life and poetry through the lens of his experience as an illegitimate child and a queer. Continue Reading…
“He looks so old!” was my first thought as the hospital elevator doors parted, revealing my dad. I was aghast at the vision before me. He appeared to have aged twenty years since I’d seen him the year before. His skin was weathered and tanned, his clean-shaven face was wrinkled and worn, and his neatly combed hair was wispy and sparse. Despite the grin on Dad’s face, his faded blue eyes disclosed the harsh life he’d been leading. If I hadn’t known his age (41), I would’ve guessed he was at least 70 years old. Seeing him like that broke my heart.
There is much about the Beat Generation that is shrouded in confusion. Oftentimes it stems from wishful thinking on the part of Beat scholars and readers, and sometimes it emerges from the haze between the myths the Beats themselves created and their own reality. Partly, though, the confusion arises from the simple fact that the politics of the three best-known Beat Generation authors was in fact rather complicated, and no amount of simplification can detract from that fact. Allen Ginsberg was the face of the left for much of the late twentieth century, but was he was also critical of much of the left. Jack Kerouac was the hero of the left in the sixties, yet his personal politics then veered hard right. And William S. Burroughs… Well, his ideas concerning politics involve space travel, engrams, and word viruses. Continue Reading…
In her essay, “John Clellon Holmes and Existentialism”, Ann Charters leaves the reader with a question: To the degree that Holmes’ thought was influenced by existentialism, was he closer to the position of Sartre or Kierkegaard? The main theme of this essay is to answer the question we are left with after reading Charter’s discussion of Holmes’ existentialism. (1) Continue Reading…
If Brion Gysin had not existed, it probably would have been necessary to invent him, as the saying goes. Pre-eminent multimedia psychedelic shaman of the latter-half of the Twentieth Century, Gysin was something of a jack-of-all-trades: Artist, Calligrapher, Entrepreneur, Kinetic Sculptor, Novelist, Performance Artist, Photographer, Poet, Raconteur, Restaurateur, and Traveller in This-and-Other Worlds. Brion did it All. And even a brief list of the names he crossed paths with sounds like a veritable Who’s Who: Laurie Anderson, Francis Bacon, David Bowie, Paul Bowles, Ira Cohen, Ornette Coleman, Max Ernst, Marianne Faithfull, Leonor Fini, Jean Genet, Keith Haring, Billie Holliday, Brian Jones, Timothy Leary, Iggy Pop, Genesis P-Orridge, Patti Smith, Gore Vidal – and, of course, his long-term friend and collaborator, William Burroughs – are among the friends, fellow-travellers and sometimes collaborators that have spoken of their admiration for the Man and his Work. As his biographer, John Geiger, wrote: